ARCHITECT OF RECORD
Ward W. Fenner
of McKim, Mead, and White
“The Neighborhood School”
Riverdale’s K-4 Lower School for 80 students
9th & 10th grade classrooms,
Home of the Jolli Humanitarian Award
Once called “Casa Giocosa”
or “The House of Joy.”
Riverdale’s founding in 1907 as a Country Day School quickly drew interest from parents who wanted their children to receive a worldly education in their backyards. The initial success of the school resulted in further expansion to accommodate more students – including students of younger ages.
The Neighborhood School was founded in 1928 and became the first step of the Riverdale Education Plan. The building was designed by Ward W. Fenner of McKim, Mead, and White, with eleven classrooms and a basement. During the dedication ceremony on December 3, 1928, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, George McAneny, stressed that the building was “created by neighborhood sentiment,” which is why it was named The Neighborhood School. The school welcomed eighty children: seventy were in Kindergarten, first, second, and third grade. The remaining ten students, entering the fourth grade, comprised the first all-girls class at Riverdale. By 1932 the school was described as “Casa Giocosa” or “The House of Joy.” It focused on developing a sense of joy in students connected to their interest in learning.
As Riverdale continued to develop and grow over the next few decades, The Neighborhood School building went through several changes, including a renaming in 1976 to the Lower School. At the time, the incoming Head of the Lower School Dr. A. Barry Bergman hoped the new name would help unify Riverdale as a single school. The change was relatively short-lived, however, because of the decision in 1985 to relocate the younger students to the River Campus. The reorganization was part of a larger initiative to integrate the Middle and Upper Schools and separate Riverdale into two divisions, Upper and Lower. The building became the home for 9th- and 10th-grade classes and, accordingly, was named the 9/10 building.
The name and purpose of the building became the topic of conversation again in 2010. Head of School Dominic A.A. Randolph and former trustee Gregg Hymowitz envisioned introducing students to a new prominent figure every year. This idea developed into the Jolli Humanitarian Award, an annual recognition of a notable humanitarian nominated by a 10th-grade student. In the year of their award, the humanitarian is invited to speak to the students and the 9/10 building is renamed to honor that individual. The inaugural recipient, in 2010, was Leymah Gbowee, nominated by Rachel Wolitzer ’12 for Gbowee’s role in helping to end the conflict in Liberia through peaceful resistance. On September 23, 2010, Gbowee visited Riverdale to speak to students. In the following year, Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize.
While the building is no longer “The Neighborhood School,” today’s students are still encouraged to find joy in their learning by being curious citizens of the world.